Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Favorite Music of 2015

I post at least one list of favorite songs and/or albums about this time each year, and this year is no exception. However, I must admit I have been a bit underwhelmed by the year in music. Maybe it's because my listening habits have changed - I don't seem to be listening to as much new music these days, but most of what I've heard just hasn't bowled me over. That said, there are still some worthwhile albums to list in a top 10 for the year:

1. Alabama Shakes - Sound and Color: Brittany Howard is a force of nature - what a voice! Their sophomore album is just as impressive as their debut, with several great bluesy, soulful songs like  the title track, "Don't Wanna Fight", and "Gimme All Your Love".

2. Kurt Vile - b'lieve i'm goin' down: A favorite native son (Philly) and former War on Drugs member is carving an impressive solo career, and this year's album has a lot of catchy, quirky pop-rock, especially the propulsive "Pretty Pimpin'", quite possibly the best song of the year.

3. Richard Thompson - Still: He's become the elder statesman of British folk-rock, and still writes some of the best, albeit dark, lyrics in music. He also can still play a mean guitar. You can always rely on a quality release from Mr. Thompson, and this is no exception. Highlights: "Beatnik Walk", "All Buttoned Up", and "Guitar Heroes" (in which he imitated the styles of several of his guitar influences). (Get the deluxe edition with an extra CD of five songs.)

4. Los Lobos  - Gates of Gold: It was great to see this venerable East LA roots-rock band nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. They didn't get in, but they can still grind out some dynamite rock and are not afraid to take chances creatively,.while remaining true to their roots. Highlight: "Made to Break Your Heart"

5. Adele - 25: I listen to precious little mainstream pop, but this Brit impresses me every time. This album is a bit more mellow and darker than her previous smash, 21, but there's a maturity in her voice and writing that really pulls you in. "Hello" is shaping up to be the Song of the Year.

6. Decemberists - What a Beautiful World, What a Terrible World - Another dependable band whose new work I always eagerly await. Colin Meloy's bookish lyrics are intriguing and the music is impressive, as usual, and even if this may not rank among their very best albums, it still has some satisfying tunes, like "Make You Better" and "The Wrong Year". Also, look for their EP from this year, Florasongs.

7. Public Service Broadcasting - The Race for Space: The first of two rather unique albums on my list - this UK electro-rock band has taken recorded material from the US/USSR space race from the 1950's and 1960's and created a captivating soundtrack around it. It's a brilliant concept with striking results. from the peppy "Go!" to the haunting "Fire in the Cockpit" (about the tragic fire in Apollo 1).

8. Africa Express - Terry Riley in C Mali: In C was the seminal work of American minimalist music, and here it gets a unique treatment, featuring Brian Eno and others with a troupe of African musicians. The piece, written 50 years ago, was always a rhythmic masterpiece, but with new instrumental and vocal interpretations, it's practically re-invented. The best world music I've heard this year.

9. Viet Cong - Viet Cong: Dark, menacing hard rock doesn't usually appeal to me, but this Canadian band does it brilliantly.  The murky sonics enhance the effect of pulling you down and in. Ironically, I don't find this album depressing at all, but exhiliarting.

10. Wilco - Star Wars: Count on Wilco to produce an entertaining and challenging collection of songs, and this one was even offered as a free MP3 album earlier in the year. Some favorites: "Random Name Generator", "You Satellite".

Honorable Mentions:
The Arcs - Yours, Dreamily
Gary Clark Jr. - The Story of Sonny Boy Slim
Tame Impala - Currents
James Taylor - Before This World
Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
Sufjan Stevens - Carrie and Lowell
Bjork - Vulnicura
Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - It's a Holiday Soul Party
Bob Dylan - The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12
Drive-by Truckers - It's Great to Be Alive!

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